The coronavirus pandemic is a far greater economic and societal threat than anything the United States has faced in recent memory. The 9/11 attacks took nearly 3,000 lives. COVID-19 has taken a quarter million. The nation’s responses to these two threats—one a palpable and immediate terrorist attack; the other a virus that crossed our borders sight unseen—have been wildly divergent.
About a year after 9/11, President George W. Bush signed legislation establishing a bipartisan commission to “prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding” the attacks. By figuring out what had gone wrong, the men and women on the panel would help prevent the same mistakes from recurring.
A year has now passed since the first official reports of a new coronavirus in China. Our day of reckoning should be upon us, but Americans are too lost in our current tragedy and governmental obfuscation to protect ourselves from another catastrophe, be it another coronavirus, a deadly strain of the flu, or any other biological threat, including a bioterror attack that could dwarf the impact of COVID-19. This is a grave mistake.
One of the first acts of President-elect Joe Biden’s new administration should be the creation of a COVID-19 commission to address the pandemic and prepare for future threats. His newly announced COVID-19 task force will rightly focus on helping the United States find a way out of our current morass. But the country also needs a separate, bipartisan inquiry that points to long-term structural solutions that would prevent a future disease from causing the levels of death, heartache, and economic disruption that the coronavirus has caused. If the new Democratic president and Republicans in Congress can agree on nothing else, surely they can agree on the need to learn from Americans’ current suffering.